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Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 BC), greatest king of the neo-Babylonian, or Chaldean, dynasty, who conquered much of southwestern Asia; known also for his extensive building in the major cities of Babylonia. The eldest son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar commanded a Babylonian army late in his father's reign and in 605 BC triumphed over Egyptian forces at the decisive Battle of Carchemish in Syria, which made Babylonia the primary military power in the Middle East. After his father's death, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon and ascended the throne on September 7, 605 BC. During the next eight years he campaigned extensively in the west against Syria, Palestine, and Egypt and against the Arabs. On March 16, 597 BC, he captured Jerusalem and took Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and many of his people captive to Babylonia. He was subsequently troubled by major revolts in Babylonia (594 BC) and in Judah (588-587 BC), which were vigorously punished; many more Jews were exiled to Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar also conducted a 13-year siege of the Phoenician city of Tyre and launched an invasion of Egypt in 568 BC. During the latter part of his reign, as the empire of the Medes increased in power to the north and east, Nebuchadnezzar built a wall, known as the Median Wall, in northern Babylonia to keep out the potential invader. Nebuchadnezzar's conquests brought in much booty and tribute, creating an age of prosperity for Babylonia. He undertook an ambitious construction program, rebuilding the temples in the major cult cities and refurbishing his capital at Babylon with a splendid ziggurat (pyramid temple) as well as other shrines, palaces, fortification walls, and processional ways. Later legend credited him with building one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for his Median wife Amyitis. Nebuchadnezzar died in early October 562 BC and was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk (the biblical Evil-Merodach). The Babylonian civilization, which endured from the 18th until the 6th century BC, was, like the Sumerian that preceded it, urban in character, although based on agriculture rather than industry. The country consisted of a dozen or so cities, surrounded by villages and hamlets. At the head of the political structure was the king, a more or less absolute monarch who exercised legislative and judicial as well as executive powers. Under him was a group of appointed governors and administrators. Mayors and councils of city elders were in charge of local administration. The Babylonians modified and transformed their Sumerian heritage in accordance with their own culture and ethos. The resulting way of life proved to be so effective that it underwent relatively little change for some 1200 years. It exerted influence on all the neighboring countries, especially the kingdom of Assyria, which adopted Babylonian culture almost in its entirety. Fortunately, many written documents from this period have been excavated and made available to scholars. One of the most important is the remarkable collection of laws often designated as the Code of Hammurabi, which, together with other documents and letters belonging to different periods, provides a comprehensive picture of Babylonian social structure and economic organization.